Russia Finishing Job in Georgia?

Russian tanks are 25 miles outside Tblisi, Georgia’s capital, in what appears to be a clear attempt to destabilize the democratically elected government of Mikhail Saakashvili.

Stephen Green wonders whether the West has the backbone to do anything about it.  Like Galrahn, I seriously doubt it.  “We’re all Georgians now” was never the case, after all.

Is Georgia’s sovereignty worth going to war over?  Considering that we lived with them under Soviet domination for several decades, probably not.  But, surely, we will let Russia know in no uncertain terms that there will be a steep economic and political price to pay if they cross this red line.

Right?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    A little earlier today in one for your comments threads I wrote about persistent interests and foreign policy. For Russia, the Caucasus is such an interest and it’s one that goes back 300 years. If the Russians do succeed in bringing down the current government and/or installing one they find more congenial, it will highlight why the Georgians wanted to join NATO and why we shouldn’t have wanted them to.

    This isn’t unrelated to Kazakhstan’s withdrawing from NATO exercises at Russia’s, er, request. NATO is weak right now. It’s weakened by substantial commitments in Afghanistan, by the change of administrations in Washington, by lack of willingness of the NATO allies to spend on defense, and by lack of coherent strategic vision.

  2. DC Loser says:

    What I haven’t heard in all this discussion is the fact that Saakashvili is under tremendous pressure from popular discontent over his government and his often undemocratic governing style, using very questionable tactics (shutting down opposition press ) to intimidate his opponents. This little flareup with Russia could very well be Saakashvili’s attempt to distract attention from his domestic troubles.

  3. So… wait… it is a red line if we Russia destabilizes a democratically elected government in Georgia… but it is also a red line if we fail to do everything in our power to destabilize a democratically elected regime in Venezuela. Is it also a red line if Israel destabilizes a democratically elected regime in Gaza?

    Is your argument, ultimately, that it is a core U.S. national security interest to protect the sanctity of every democratically elected regime in the world? Or is Georgia special? How so?

  4. PD Shaw says:

    Dave, Russia had persistent interests in Afghanistan in ’79 and in Moldavia in 1853. In both instances, the West took belligerent action against Russia. I’d argue that Europe’s interests in Georgia today are greater than in Afghanistan or Moldavia then. Though America’s interests are merely derivative of Europe’s.

    Is Georgia worth America going to war over? Not unless our NATO allies take the lead. Should we impose economic and other sanctions against Russia? Yes. But Europe won’t (notice how well Volkswagen is doing in its Russia market today?), so why should America pay the economic cost for Europe’s benefit?

    All I have left is Obama serving the role of international nag. He’s getting good at regretting American actions in the past; he can open up a new repertoire of regrets about Russian belligerence.

  5. I’d argue that Europe’s interests in Georgia today are greater than in Afghanistan or Moldavia then.

    You’d be hard pressed to find many scholars who consider the Crimean war a good idea, so I am not sure that precedent is really convincing. And about Afghanistan… how about a little context? I mean the Cold War had to make some difference in how we reacted, no? Our reaction to the Afghanistan invasion was hardly a function of the inherent value of Afghanistan.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Is your argument, ultimately, that it is a core U.S. national security interest to protect the sanctity of every democratically elected regime in the world? Or is Georgia special? How so?

    Some governments are more democratic than others. Certainly, there’s no question about the way Saakasvili was elected.

    Beyond that, Georgia has made substantial progress in meeting targets for NATO membership and the NATO countries promised at Bucharest a year ago that they would be admitted to the Western Alliance. That makes them special.

    Hamas is a terrorist group that is also popular in Palestine. Differentiating Hamas the political party from Hamas the international terrorist group is difficult, to say the least.

    Chavez is a pain in the butt but otherwise his status isn’t an American interest.

  7. Bithead says:

    Gee, Bernard… are you suggesting that we shouldn’t be working against Communism?

  8. Gee, Bernard… are you suggesting that we shouldn’t be working against Communism?

    Bit… buddy… judging from your profile pic, you’re an older guy. That’s great. With age comes experience. But the Cold War ended 20 years ago. We trade with China and Vietnam. Communism isn’t a threat to the United States… it is a discredited ideology that lives on solely in Cuba, North Korea, and Berkeley. And Russia isn’t even Communist anymore by any reasonable definition.

  9. Bithead says:

    , and Berkeley.

    And Venezuela.

    And arguably, more recently, Washington.

    In the end, though, that’s really what this comes down to.

    But, fine, let’s frame this in terms of freedom for the people of Georgia, if you prefer. Is that worth getting involved with, in your view?

  10. An Interested Party says:

    How, exactly, does communism live in Washington…

  11. anjin-san says:

    Is that worth getting involved with, in your view?

    You tell us dude. When are you leaving for Georgia to lend a hand if the Russkies march?

  12. just me says:

    I seriously doubt the US would get involved beyond censures and sanctions either at the UN, NATO or just encouragement with allies..

    But I just don’t see getting deeply involved as something the current president would do, or honestly something McCain would do, if he had been elected.

    I figure before all is over Russia will control Georgia, and the UN will toss a few “Naughty boys” their way and it will be a day.

  13. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Anjin, Lord Toronaga insists on your presence. Seems you offended him with you politics and now must pay the price. Sorry, dude.

  14. Dave, Russia had persistent interests in Afghanistan in ’79 and in Moldavia in 1853. In both instances, the West took belligerent action against Russia. I’d argue that Europe’s interests in Georgia today are greater than in Afghanistan or Moldavia then. Though America’s interests are merely derivative of Europe’s.

    Considering the long term effects, Afghanistan isn’t really a good arguement for getting involved in Georgia.

  15. But, fine, let’s frame this in terms of freedom for the people of Georgia, if you prefer. Is that worth getting involved with, in your view?

    No.

  16. Michael says:

    Is your argument, ultimately, that it is a core U.S. national security interest to protect the sanctity of every democratically elected regime in the world?

    I would say it is in our interest to promote and protect republican governments in the world, not necessarily democracies.

    it is a discredited ideology that lives on solely in Cuba, North Korea, and Berkeley.

    And Vietnam, Laos, Burma…

    And Venezuela.

    And arguably, more recently, Washington.

    Communism doesn’t mean “governments run by people Bithead doesn’t like”.

  17. anjin-san says:

    行く、迷惑なノミは…

  18. davod says:

    I wonder if Russia’s move had anything to do with the recent private visit to Russia of Schultz and another to discuss nuclear disarmament.

  19. davod says:

    The shorthand response is:

    The EU part of the NATO alliance is more worried about Russia’s near monopoly on the supply of energy resources to them. They have been blackmailed at least once. Long term they should be interested in Georgia’s alliance to the West for the same reason.

    Of course, linked to Georgia is the Ukraine, and NATO/EU should be worried about what the Russians will do with the Ukraine if there is a minimal reaction to Russia’s moves in Georgia.

    The Jamestown Foundation web site has some interesting reporting from Eastern Europe as well as reporting on Russia’s development and marketing of its energy reserves.

  20. Hangtown Bob says:

    You said, “But, surely, we will let Russia know in no uncertain terms that there will be a steep economic and political price to pay if they cross this red line.”

    With the “O” man!! Surely, you’ve GOT to be kidding.

  21. Michael says:

    You said, “But, surely, we will let Russia know in no uncertain terms that there will be a steep economic and political price to pay if they cross this red line.”

    With the “O” man!! Surely, you’ve GOT to be kidding.

    Yeah, Obama’s going to give in to the Russians just like he did with those Somali pirates.

    wait…

  22. Bithead says:

    @AIP

    How, exactly, does communism live in Washington…

    Well, let’s examine that question this way; What, in your opinion are the tennants and markers of communism?

    @Bernard:

    No.

    This would seem to be in direct opposition to Kennedy’s message:

    “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

    I find that disconnection interesting, and to some degree enlightening.

  23. Kennedy’s message:

    Yeah… Kennedy’s was a good speech and a bad strategy.

    I am an Eisenhower-man myself.

  24. An Interested Party says:

    What, in your opinion are the tennants and markers of communism?

    Obviously not anything that is going on in Washington…but I’m sure your ideological hatred of anyone to the left of you won’t allow you to see that reality…

  25. An Interested Party says:

    Oh, and if Kennedy’s message in that speech should now be official U.S. policy, when do we invade Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Burma, Sudan, and Zimbabwe, among any other countries…

  26. anjin-san says:

    I am an Eisenhower-man myself.

    Some of Gen. Eishenhower’s remarks over the years.

    Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

    The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense.
    Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from an iron cross.

    A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.

    Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative.

    Don’t join the book burners. Do not think you are going to conceal thoughts by concealing evidence that they ever existed.

    From behind the Iron Curtain, there are signs that tyranny is in trouble and reminders that its structure is as brittle as its surface is hard.

    Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels – men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine. As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.

    How far you can go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without?

    Only Americans can hurt America.

    Peace and justice are two sides of the same coin.

    A hell of a man.

  27. davod says:

    anjin-san – It is difficult in this age of mass communication and access to the cut and paste world of the internet, but I do sometimes try to keep things in context.

    Your one liners from Eisenhower certainly look like an indictment on something. What is it?

  28. anjin-san says:

    Your one liners from Eisenhower certainly look like an indictment on something. What is it?

    Did not post those with any agenda beyond showing what a wise man the General was, something I am not sure he gets sufficient credit for.

  29. Bithead says:

    Obviously not anything that is going on in Washington

    Nice dodge.

    Oh, and if Kennedy’s message in that speech should now be official U.S. policy, when do we invade Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Burma, Sudan, and Zimbabwe, among any other countries…

    Amazing that the Democrats stiill hold JFK as a party icon, anymore, isn’t it?

  30. An Interested Party says:

    Nice dodge.

    Not a dodge at all…you’re the one that made the initial ridiculous claim…prove it…

    Amazing that the Democrats still hold JFK as a party icon, anymore, isn’t it?

    Kennedy’s speech was just that, a speech…even though he talked pretty words, I notice that there were still countries in his time that were dictatorships that we didn’t bother to liberate…amazing that any conservatives would want our country to be the world’s policeman…

  31. anjin-san says:

    amazing that any conservatives would want our country to be the world’s policeman…

    Very. Yet Bit is ready to lead the fight stay at home and cheer while others fight for Georgia. Of course he, like any true armchair warrior realizes that when one does the dirty work himself, there is a real risk of encountering – napalm and rockets and bombs… oh my!

  32. Andrei L., Russia says:

    QUOTE:
    “Certainly, there’s no question about the way Saakasvili was elected.”

    Hm.. James, doesn’t a 52% elections figure for a ruling party in a post Soviet state that controls quite more than it’s actually supposed to sound strange for you?